The Greek classical era (beginning c. 500 BCE) lasted around 200 years and saw the rise of democracy (‘people power’) when Athenian leader, Cleisthenes, created a political system that enfranchised adult men of Athenian descent. Many Greek city-states practised democracy, although there were exceptions, such as Sparta and ‘barbarian’ Epirus. Athens was the era’s dominant power and home to the Acropolis, the Parthenon and great thinkers and playwrights, such as Socrates, Aristotle, Sophocles and Euripides. There was a strong belief in gods, but scientific and mathematical endeavour flourished: Pythagoras discovered the Pythagorean theorem and Anaximenes’ ‘First Cause’ rejected a theistic view of the universe. It was also an era of war, as Greek city-states fought Persian invasions. According to the contemporary historian, Herodotus, the Persian king Xerxes I sacrificed many cattle in Troy, site of a sanctuary for Athena the goddess of war, prior to invading Greece (480 BCE). Troy retained a special significance in Greek culture, the site of the legendary conflict between the early Greek heroes and King Priam of Troy, which was celebrated in Homer’s Iliad, and was the recurring theme of many outstanding dramas of the Classical era.
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